Most days, Ruth Graf’s house is full of dogs. Big dogs. Little dogs. Black dogs. Brown dogs. Dogs with wiry hair. Dogs with smooth hair. Dogs. They roam the backyard and make her Ledgewood Avenue house easy to spot. About the only thing more noticeable is the abundance of flowers that decorates her front yard.
About 11 years ago, Graf retired from teaching theology at the University and found she had some time on her hands. Knowing that idle hands are a workshop for you-know-who, she filled her time by planting a few flowering things in front of the University-owned house where she lives. They grew, and so did her ambition. Now her garden flows across the front of the house, along the driveway, around the backyard—and up and down the street.
She planted gardens in the two duplexes next door where several nuns live, at the mission and ministry house down the block and under the pine tree up at the corner of Dana and Ledgewood avenues. In the height of late summer, the yards overflow with black-eyed Susans, purple coneflowers, bright orange Mexican sunflowers, pink and white periwinkles, knock-out red roses, coral-colored impatiens and a variety of mums.
Graf discovered, though, that gardening is costly. So she tapped into her second love—dogs. When she’s not watering her work, the 75-year-old Graf dog-sits for neighbors, University employees and anyone else with a best friend. The money from the sitting goes entirely into her gardens, which cost thousands of dollars each year. Of course, for Graf, it’s a labor of love. “It’s seeing the fruit of your labor when it all comes up, all the pretty colors,” she says. “It’s much easier to see than teaching.”